Cape Breton’s two lone Liberal MLA’s are offering high praise for their soon-to-be former boss but are not yet ready to confirm whether they will seek the job as party leader.
Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan and Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA Derek Mombourquette described Premier Stephen McNeil as a friend and mentor.
"Stephen has been a friend, a mentor and a part of my family for the past 10 years, so for me it was sad and while I am happy for him personally, it is a huge loss for us,” said MacLellan, who was first elected to the provincial legislature in a June 2010 byelection.
Currently serving as the minister of business, MacLellan said McNeil’s departure will certainly result in significant changes to the party and the government.
“It is certainly a big hit and we in the caucus are still trying to come to grips with the fact that the big guy soon won't be around anymore,” he said.
McNeil announced last week he was stepping down but will remain on the job until the party elects a new leader. No date has yet been set for a leadership convention.
“I am sad but happy for my friend,” said Mombourquette, who currently serves a minister of mines and energy.
“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this but 17 years in politics is a long time,” he said.
He said McNeil worked hard for Cape Breton noting the assistance offered residents after a 2016 flood caused millions in damages in Sydney and surrounding area. The announcement of the construction of a new community college in downtown Sydney and the construction of a new cancer centre are yet other examples of McNeil’s commitment to Cape Breton, he said.
As to whether either plans to make a leadership bid remains to be seen.
“I'm still thinking it over. The outpouring of support and the offers of help that are out there for me have been humbling and overwhelming,” said MacLellan.
“I’m not sure what I am going to do. It’s a huge decision and one that we didn’t see coming, so there is lots to think about and lots of discussions to have."
Mombourquette is equally unconfirmed.
“Never say never,” he said, confirming only that it is his intention to seek re-election as an MLA.
Besides, he jokes, his family has already awarded him deputy leader on the home front.
“My primary focus right now is my constituency and working for all of Cape Breton,” he said.
McNeil was first elected as MLA for Annapolis in 2003 and was leader of the official opposition 2009 until 2013.
When it comes to Cape Breton’s eight seats in the house, four are held by Progressive Conservatives, two Liberal, one New Democrat and one Independent.
The Liberals hold 26 seats across the province with 18 held by Conservatives, five by New Democrats and two are held by Independents.